Growing calls to push back licence deadline

20 May 2005
Growing calls to push back licence deadline

Government ministers are coming under mounting pressure to push back the start date of new licensing laws in England and Wales because of fears that operators won't be ready in time.

Westminster City Council research has revealed that with less than three months to the 6 August licence conversion deadline, which licensed premises must meet if they want to guarantee their existing hours, application rates from a sample of eight authorities range from just 1% to 5%.

The situation has been exacerbated by the complexity of the forms and inconsistent interpretation of the rules by councils, meaning many applications have been rejected.

Kate Nicholls, secretary of the Westminster Licensees Association, said: "Licensees need more time to complete the process of transition. A six-month timeframe for applications is clearly inadequate. This situation has been caused by Government ineptitude and the licensed trade should not be made to pay the price."

Licensing solicitor Craig Baylis, partner at Berwin Leighton Paisner, fears many operators won't be registered in time and that council licensing offices will be inundated with applications this summer.

"The Government has really let us down," said Baylis at a licensing seminar held in London last week. "There's been no dictate from central government, which has resulted in inconsistency and disagreement at council level."

Despite rumours that the new licensing regimes start date of 7 November may be put back to February or March 2006, a spokeswoman for the Department for Culture, Media and Sport said it remained confident of meeting its current timetable.

"We know big companies are aware of the changes and are delaying to see what their competitors do. Independents probably do need reminding, so we will be targeting them through associations and advertisements," she added.

Last week the British Institute of Innkeeping added its voice to calls for more time, and alarm among the off-trade means a parliamentary question requesting an extension seems likely.

Number of applications

Figures from Westminster City Council's sample research

Nottingham Premises: 1,300
41 applications (3%), 17 invalid

Southampton & Eastleigh Premises: 2,000
13 applications (1%), 9 invalid

Cambridge Premises: 674
15 applications (2%), 6 invalid

Norwich Premises: 750
15 applications (2%), 6 invalid

Sheffield Premises: 2,000
91 applications (5%), 18 invalid

Cardiff Premises: 2,000
66 applications (3%)

Newcastle Premises: 1,500
33 applicants (2%)

Leeds Premises: 3,500
80 applicants (2%)

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